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|The Holy City of Mecca|
|Nickname(s): Umm al-Qura ("Mother of All Settlements")|
|Founder||Prophet Ismā'īl (Islamic tradition)|
|• Mayor||Usama al-Bar|
|• Provincial Governor||Khalid al-Faisal|
|• Urban||850 km2 (330 sq mi)|
|• Metro||1,200 km2 (500 sq mi)|
|Elevation||277 m (909 ft)|
|• Density||4,200/km2 (2,625/sq mi)|
|Mecca Municipality estimate|
|Time zone||AST ( UTC+3)|
|• Summer ( DST)||AST ( UTC+3)|
|Postal Code||(5 digits)|
Mecca (pron.: / /; Arabic: مكة, Makkah, pronounced [ˈmækkæ]), also transliterated as Makkah, is a city in Tihamah on the edge of Hejaz. and the capital of Makkah Province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located 70 km (43 mi) inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of 277 m (909 ft) above sea level. Its resident population in 2012 was 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during Hajj period held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
As the birthplace of Muhammad and a site of the revelation of the Quran, Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in the religion of Islam and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, the sharifs, either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger empires. It was absorbed into Saudi Arabia in 1925. In its modern period, Mecca has seen tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure. Because of this, Mecca has lost many thousand-year-old buildings and archaeological sites. Today, more than 15 million Muslims visit Mecca annually, including several million during the few days of the Hajj. As a result, Mecca has become one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the Muslim world, although non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city.
Etymology and usage
"Mecca" is the familiar form of the English transliteration for the Arabic name of the city, although the official transliteration used by the Saudi government is Makkah, which is closer to the Arabic pronunciation. The word "Mecca" in English has come to be used to refer to any place that draws large numbers of people, and because of this many Muslims regard the use of this spelling for the city as offensive. The Saudi government adopted Makkah as the official spelling in the 1980s, but is not universally known or used worldwide. The full official name is Makkah al-Mukarramah (مكة المكرمة, pronounced [makka lmukarrama] or [makkah almukarrama]), which means "Mecca the Honored", but is also loosely translated as "The Holy City of Mecca".
The ancient or early name for the site of Mecca is Bakkah (also transliterated Baca, Baka, Bakah, Bakka, Becca, Bekka, etc.). An Arabic language word, its etymology, like that of Mecca, is obscure. Widely believed to be a synonym for Mecca, it is said to be more specifically the early name for the valley located therein, while Muslim scholars generally use it to refer to the sacred area of the city that immediately surrounds and includes the Kaaba.
The form Bakkah is used for the name Mecca in the Quran in 3:96, while the form Mecca is used in 48:24. In South Arabic, the language in use in the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad, the b and m were interchangeable. Other references to Mecca in the Quran (6:92, 42:5) call it Umm al-Qura, meaning "mother of all settlements." Another name of Mecca is Tihamah.
Another name for Mecca, or the wilderness and mountains surrounding it, according to Arab and Islamic tradition, is Faran or Pharan, referring to the Desert of Paran mentioned in the Old Testament. Arab and Islamic tradition holds that the wilderness of Paran, broadly speaking, is the Tihamah and the site where Ishmael settled was Mecca. Yaqut al-Hamawi, the 12th century Syrian geographer, writes that Faran is "an arabized Hebrew word. One of the names of Mecca mentioned in the Torah." There is a Tal Faran ("Hill of Faran") on the outskirts of Mecca.
Mecca is governed by the Municipality of Mecca, a municipal council of fourteen locally elected members headed by a mayor (called an Al-Amin) appointed by the Saudi Government. The current mayor of the city is Usama al-Bar.
Mecca is the capital of Makkah Province, which includes neighboring Jeddah. The provincial governor was Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdul Aziz from 2000 until his death in 2007. On 16 May 2007, Prince Khalid al Faisal was appointed as the new governor.
Islamic tradition attributes the beginning of Mecca to Ishmael's descendants. Many Muslims point to the Old Testament chapter Psalm 84:3–6 and a mention of a pilgrimage at the Valley of Baca, that Muslims see as referring to the mentioning of Mecca as Bakkah in Qur'an Surah 3:96. Also the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus who lived between 60 BCE and 30 BCE writes about the isolated region of Arabia in his work Bibliotheca historica describing a holy shrine that Muslims see as referring to the Kaaba at Mecca "And a temple has been set-up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians". Ptolemy may have called the city "Macoraba", though this identification is controversial.
Mecca was also mentioned in the Samaritan literature, in the Book of the “Secrets of Moses” (Asatir) which claimed that Mecca was built by Ishmael and his eldest son Nebaioth
Some time in the 5th century CE, the Kaaba was a place of worship for the deities of Arabia's pagan tribes. Mecca's most important pagan deity was Hubal, which had been placed there by the ruling Quraysh tribe and remained until the 7th century CE.
In the 5th century, the Quraysh took control of Mecca, and became skilled merchants and traders. In the 6th century they joined the lucrative spice trade as well, since battles in other parts of the world were causing trade routes to divert from the dangerous sea routes to the more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been on the increase. Another previous route that ran through the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was also being threatened by exploitations from the Sassanid Empire, as well as being disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman–Persian Wars. Mecca's prominence as a trading centre also surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra. The Sassanids however did not always pose a threat to Mecca as in 575 CE they actually protected the Arabian city from invasion of the Kingdom of Axum, led by its Christian leader Abraha. The tribes of the southern Arabia, asked the Persian king Khosrau I for aid, in response to which he came south to Arabia with both foot-soldiers and a fleet of ships into Mecca. The Persian intervention prevented Christianity from spreading eastward into Arabia, and Mecca and the Islamic prophet Muhammad who was at the time a six year boy in the Quraysh tribe "would not grow up under the cross."
By the middle of the 6th century, there were three major settlements in northern Arabia, all along the south-western coast that borders the Red Sea, in a habitable region between the sea and the great mountains to the east. Although the area around Mecca was completely barren, it was the wealthiest of the three settlements with abundant water via the renowned Zamzam Well and a position at the crossroads of major caravan routes.
The harsh conditions and terrain of the Arabian peninsula meant a near-constant state of conflict between the local tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in an annual pilgrimage. Up to the 7th century, this journey was intended for religious reasons by the pagan Arabs to pay homage to their shrine, and to drink from the Zamzam Well. However, it was also the time each year that disputes would be arbitrated, debts would be resolved, and trading would occur at Meccan fairs. These annual events gave the tribes a sense of common identity and made Mecca an important focus for the peninsula.
Camel caravans, said to have first been used by Muhammad's great-grandfather, were a major part of Mecca's bustling economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring goods – leather, livestock, and metals mined in the local mountains – to Mecca to be loaded on the caravans and carried to cities in Syria and Iraq. Historical accounts also provide some indication that goods from other continents may also have flowed through Mecca. Goods from Africa and the Far East passed through en route to Syria including spices, leather, medicine, cloth, and slaves; in return Mecca received money, weapons, cereals and wine, which in turn were distributed throughout Arabia. The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins, and negotiated safe passages for caravans, giving them water and pasture rights. Mecca became the centre of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other regional powers such as the Abyssinian, Ghassan, and Lakhm were in decline leaving Meccan trade to be the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century.
According to Islamic tradition, the history of Mecca goes back to Abraham ( Ibrahim) who built the Kaaba with the help of his elder son Ishmael in around 2000 BCE when the inhabitants of what was then known as Bakkah had fallen away from the original monotheism of Abraham through the influence of the Amelkites.
Muhammad and conquest of Mecca
Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, and thus Islam has been inextricably linked with the city ever since. He was born in a minor faction, the Hashemites, of the ruling Quraysh tribe. It was in Mecca, in the nearby mountain cave of Hira on Jabal al-Nour, that, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad is said to have begun receiving divine revelations from God through the Archangel Gabriel in 610 AD, and began to preach his form of Abrahamic monotheism against Meccan paganism. After enduring persecution from the pagan tribes for 13 years, Muhammad emigrated (see Hijra) in 622 with his companions, the Muhajirun, to Yathrib (later called Medina). The conflict between the Quraysh and the Muslims, however, continued: the two fought in the Battle of Badr, where the Muslims defeated the Quraysh army outside Medina; while the Battle of Uhud ended indecisively. Overall, however, Meccan efforts to annihilate Islam failed and proved to be very costly and ultimately unsuccessful. During the Battle of the Trench in 627, the combined armies of Arabia were unable to defeat Muhammad's forces .
In 628, Muhammad and his followers wanted to enter Mecca, for pilgrimage. Instead, however, they were blocked by the Quraysh, after which both Muslims and Meccans entered into the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, whereby the Quraysh promised to cease fighting Muslims and promised that Muslims would be allowed into the city to perform the pilgrimage the following year. It was meant to be a ceasefire for 10 years. However, just two years later, the Quraysh violated the truce by slaughtering a group of Muslims and their allies. Muhammad and his companions, now 10,000 strong, decided to march into Mecca. However, instead of continuing their fight, the city of Mecca surrendered to Muhammad and his followers who declared peace and amnesty for the inhabitants. The native pagan imagery was destroyed by Muhammad and his followers and the location Islamized and rededicated to the worship of God. Mecca was declared as the holiest site in Islam ordaining it as the centre of Muslim pilgrimage, one of the faith's Five Pillars. Then, Muhammad returned to Medina, after assigning Akib ibn Usaid as governor of the city. His other activities in Arabia led to the unification of the peninsula.
Muhammad died in 632, but with the sense of unity that he had passed on to his Ummah (Islamic nation), Islam began a rapid expansion, and within the next few hundred years stretched from North Africa well into Asia and parts of Europe. As the Islamic Empire grew, Mecca continued to attract pilgrims not just from Arabia, but now from all across the Muslim world and beyond, as Muslims came to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Mecca also attracted a year-round population of scholars, pious Muslims who wished to live close to the Kaaba, and local inhabitants who served the pilgrims. Due to the difficulty and expense of the Hajj, pilgrims arrived by boat at Jeddah, and came overland, or joined the annual caravans from Syria or Iraq.
Medieval and pre-modern times
Mecca was never the capital of any of the Islamic states but Muslim rulers did contribute to its upkeep. During the reigns of Umar (634–44 CE) and Uthman ibn Affan (644–56) concerns of flooding caused the caliphs to bring in Christian engineers to build barrages in the low-lying quarters and construct dykes and embankments to protect the area round the Kaaba.
Muhammad's migration to Medina shifted the focus away from Mecca, this focus moved still more when Ali, the fourth caliph took power choosing Kufa as his capital. The Umayyad Caliphate moved the capital to Damascus in Syria and the Abbasid Caliphate to Baghdad, in modern-day Iraq, which remained the centre of the Islamic Empire for nearly 500 years. Mecca re-entered Islamic political history during the Second Islamic Civil War, when it was held by Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who opposed the Umayyad caliphs. The city was twice besieged by the Umayyads, in 683 and 692. For some time thereafter the city figured little in politics, remaining a city of devotion and scholarship governed by the Hashemite Sharifs.
In 930, Mecca was attacked and sacked by Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect led by Abū-Tāhir Al-Jannābī and centered in eastern Arabia. The Black Death pandemic hit Mecca in 1349.
In 1517, the Sharif, Barakat bin Muhammed, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Caliph but retained a great degree of local autonomy.
In 1803 the city was captured by the First Saudi State, which held Mecca until 1813. This was a massive blow to the prestige of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire, which had exercised sovereignty over the holy city since 1517. The Ottomans assigned the task of bringing Mecca back under Ottoman control to their powerful Khedive (viceroy) of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha. Muhammad Ali Pasha successfully returned Mecca to Ottoman control in 1813.
In 1818, followers of the Salafi juristic school were again defeated, but some of the Al Saud clan survived and founded the Second Saudi State that lasted until 1891 and lead on to the present country of Saudi Arabia.
Mecca was regularly afflicted with cholera epidemics. 27 epidemics were recorded during pilgrimages from the 1831 to 1930. More than 20,000 pilgrims died of cholera during the 1907–08 hajj.
Revolt of Sharif of Mecca
In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was at war with Britain and its allies, having sided with Germany. It had successfully repulsed an attack on Istanbul in the Gallipoli Campaign and on Baghdad in the Siege of Kut. The British agent T E Lawrence conspired with the Ottoman governor Syed Hussain bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca. Hussein bin Ali revolted against the Ottoman Empire from Mecca, and it was the first city captured by his forces in the Battle of Mecca (1916). Sharif's revolt proved a turning point of the war on the eastern front. Sharif Hussein declared a new state, the Kingdom of Hejaz, and declared Mecca as the capital of the new kingdom.
Following the Battle of Mecca (1924), the Sharif of Mecca was overthrown by the Saud family, and Mecca was incorporated into Saudi Arabia.
Under Saudi rule, much of the historic city has been demolished as a result of construction programs – see below.
On November 20, 1979 two hundred armed Islamist dissidents led by Saudi preacher Juhayman al-Otaibi seized the Grand Mosque. They claimed that the Saudi royal family no longer represented pure Islam and that the Masjid al-Haram (The Sacred Mosque) and the Kaaba, must be held by those of true faith. The rebels seized tens of thousands of pilgrims as hostages and barricaded themselves in the mosque. The siege lasted two weeks, and resulted in several hundred deaths and significant damage to the shrine, especially the Safa-Marwa gallery. Pakistani forces carried out the final assault; they were assisted with weapons, logistics and planning by an elite team of French commandos from The French GIGN commando unit.
Destruction of historic buildings
The officially approved form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, is hostile to any reverence given to historical or religious places of significance for fear that it may give rise to idolatry. As a consequence, under Saudi rule, it has been estimated that since 1985 about 95% of Mecca's historic buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished.
Historic sites of religious importance which have been destroyed by the Saudis include five of the renowned "Seven Mosques" initially built by Muhammad's daughter and four of his "greatest Companions": Masjid Abu Bakr, Masjid Salman al-Farsi, Masjid Umar ibn al-Khattab, Masjid Sayyida Fatima bint Rasulullah and Masjid Ali ibn Abu Talib.
It has been reported that there now are fewer than 20 structures remaining in Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad. Other buildings that have been destroyed include the house of Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad, demolished to make way for public lavatories; the house of Abu Bakr, Muhammad's companion, now the site of the local Hilton hotel; the house of Ali-Oraid, the grandson of Muhammad, and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, now the location of the King's palace in Mecca; Muhammad's birthplace, demolished to make way for a library; and the Abraj Al Bait Towers, built after demolishing the Ottoman-era Ajyad Fortress.
The ostensible reason for much of the destruction of historic buildings has been for the construction of hotels, apartments, parking lots and other infrastructure facilities for Hajj pilgrims. However, many have been destroyed without any such reason. For example, when the house of Ali-Oraid, the grandson of Muhammed was discovered and excavated, King Fahd himself ordered that it be bulldozed in case it should become a pilgrimage site.
The pilgrimage to Mecca attracts millions of Muslims from all over the world. There are two pilgrimages: the Hajj, and the Umrah.
The Hajj, the 'greater' pilgrimage is performed annually in Mecca and nearby sites. During the Hajj, several million people of varying nationalities worship in unison. Every adult, healthy Muslim who has the financial and physical capacity to travel to Mecca and can make arrangements for the care of his/her dependents during the trip, must perform the Hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, is not obligatory, but is recommended in the Qur'an. Often, they perform the Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, while visiting the Masjid al-Haram.
Incidents during Pilgrimage
Mecca has been the site of several incidents and failures of crowd control because of the large numbers of people who come to make the Hajj. For example, on 2 July 1990, a pilgrimage to Mecca ended in tragedy when the ventilation system failed in a crowded pedestrian tunnel and 1,426 people were either suffocated or trampled to death.
Mecca is at an elevation of 277 m (909 ft) above sea level, and approximately 80 km (50 mi) inland from the Red Sea. Central Mecca lies in a corridor between mountains, which is often called the "Hollow of Mecca." The area contains the valley of Al Taneem, the Valley of Bakkah and the valley of Abqar. This mountainous location has defined the contemporary expansion of the city. The city centers on the Masjid al-Haram area, whose elevation is lower than most of the city. The area around the mosque comprises the old city. The main avenues are Al-Mudda'ah and Sūq al-Layl to the north of the mosque, and As-Sūg Assaghīr to the south. As the Saudis expanded the Grand Mosque in the centre of the city, where there were once hundreds of houses are now replaced with wide avenues and city squares. Traditional homes are built of local rock and are generally two to three stories. The total area of Mecca today stands over 1,200 km2 (460 sq mi).
In pre-modern Mecca, the city exploited a few chief sources of water. The first were local wells, such as the Zamzam Well, that produced generally brackish water. The second source was the spring of Ayn Zubayda. The sources of this spring are the mountains of J̲abal Saʿd (Jabal Sa'd) and Jabal Kabkāb, which lie a few kilometers east of Jabal Arafa or about 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Mecca. Water was transported from it using underground channels. A very sporadic third source was rainfall which was stored by the people in small reservoirs or cisterns. The rainfall, as scant as it is, also presents the threat of flooding and has been a danger since earliest times. According to Al-Kurdī, there had been 89 historic floods by 1965, including several in the Saudi period. In the last century the most severe one occurred in 1942. Since then, dams have been constructed to ameliorate the problem.
Mecca features an extremely arid climate. Unlike other Saudi Arabian cities, Mecca retains its warm temperature in winter, which can range from 17 °C (63 °F) at midnight to 25 °C (77 °F) in the afternoon. Summer temperatures are considered very hot and break the 40 °C (104 °F) mark in the afternoon dropping to 30 °C (86 °F) in the evening. Rain usually falls in Mecca in small amounts between November and January.
|Climate data for Mecca|
|Record high °C (°F)||37.0
|Average high °C (°F)||30.2
|Daily mean °C (°F)||23.9
|Average low °C (°F)||18.6
|Record low °C (°F)||11.0
|Rainfall mm (inches)||20.6
|Avg. precipitation days||4.1||0.9||2.0||1.9||0.7||0.0||0.2||1.6||2.3||1.9||3.9||3.6||23.1|
Mecca houses the Masjid al-Haram, the largest mosque in the world. The mosque surrounds the Kaaba, which Muslims turn towards while offering daily prayer. This mosque is also commonly known as the Haram or Grand Mosque. At Ramadan, 3 million people go there; at Hajj 20 million go there.
As mentioned above, because of the Wahhabist hostility to reverence being paid to historic and religious buildings, Mecca has lost most of its heritage in recent years and few buildings from the last 1500 years have survived Saudi rule.
Expansion of the city is ongoing and includes the construction of 601 m (1,972 ft) tall Abraj Al Bait Towers across the street from the Masjid al-Haram. The towers are set to be completed in 2012 when they will become the 2nd tallest building in the world. The construction of the towers involved the demolition of the Ajyad Fortress, which in turn sparked a dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The Zamzam Well is home to a celebrated water spring. The Qishla of Mecca was an Ottoman castle facing the Grand Mosque and defending the city from attack. However, the Saudi government removed the structure to give space for hotels and business buildings near to the Grand Mosque. Hira is a cave near Mecca, on the mountain named Jabal Al-Nūr in the Tihamah region of present day Saudi Arabia. It is notable for being the location where Muhammad received his first revelations from God through the angel Jibreel, also known as Gabriel to Christians.
The Meccan economy has been heavily dependent on the annual pilgrimage. As one academic put it, "[Meccans] have no means of earning a living but by serving the hajjis." Income generated from the Hajj, in fact, not only powers the Meccan economy but has historically had far reaching effects on the economy of the entire Arabian Peninsula. The income was generated in a number of ways. One method was taxing the pilgrims. Taxes especially increased during the Great Depression, and many of these taxes existed as late as 1972. Another way the Hajj generates income is through services to pilgrims. For example, the Saudi national airline, Saudia, generates 12% of its income from the pilgrimage. Fares paid by pilgrims to reach Mecca by land also generate income; as do the hotels and lodging companies that house them.
The city takes in more than $100 million, while the Saudi government spends about $50 million on services for the Hajj. There are some industries and factories in the city, but Mecca no longer plays a major role in Saudi Arabia's economy, which is mainly based on oil exports. The few industries operating in Mecca include textiles, furniture, and utensils. The majority of the economy is service oriented.
Nevertheless, many industries have been set up in Mecca. Various types of enterprises that have existed since 1970: corrugated iron manufacturing, copper smithies, carpentry shops, upholstering establishments, vegetable oil extraction plants, sweets manufacturies, flour mills, bakeries, poultry farms, frozen food importing, photography processing, secretarial establishments, ice factories, bottling plants for soft drinks, barber shops, book shops, travel agencies and banks.
The city has grown substantially in the 20th and 21st centuries, as the convenience and affordability of jet travel has increased the number of pilgrims participating in the Hajj. Thousands of Saudis are employed year-round to oversee the Hajj and staff the hotels and shops that cater to pilgrims; these workers in turn have increased the demand for housing and services. The city is now ringed by freeways, and contains shopping malls and skyscrapers.
Health care is provided by the Saudi government free of charge to all pilgrims. There are Seven major hospitals in Mecca:
- Ajyad Hospital (Arabic: مستشفى أجياد)
- Kign Fisal Hospital ( Arabic: مستشفى الملك فيصل )
- King Abdul Aziz Hospital ( Arabic: مستشفى الملك عبدالعزيز)
- Sheesha Hospital ( Arabic: مستشفى الششة )
- Al Noor Hospital ( Arabic: مستشفى النور )
- Hira Hospital ( Arabic: مستشفى حراء )
- Maternity and Children Hospital ( Arabic: مستشفى الولادة والأطفال )
- King Abdullah Medical City ( Arabic: مدينة الملك عبدالله الطبية )
There are also many walk-in clinics available for both residents and pilgrims.
Mecca's culture has been affected by the large number of pilgrims that arrive annually, and thus boasts a rich cultural heritage.
As a result of the vast numbers of pilgims coming to the city each year (many of whom remain permanently), Mecca has become by far the most diverse city in the Muslim world. In contrast to the rest of Saudi Arabia, and particularly Nejd, Mecca has, according to the The New York Times, become "a striking oasis" of free thought and discussion and, also, of "unlikely liberalism" as "Meccans see themselves as a bulwark against the creeping extremism that has overtaken much Islamic debate".
The first press was brought to Mecca in 1885 by Osman Nuri Paşa, an Ottoman Wāli. During the Hashemite period, it was used to print the city's official gazette, al-Qibla. The Saudi regime expanded this press into a larger operation, introducing the new Saudi official gazette Umm al-Qurā. Henceforth presses and printing techniques were introduced in the city from around the Middle East, mostly via Jeddah.
Mecca owns its hometown paper, Al Nadwa. However, other Saudi and international newspapers are also provided in Mecca such as the Saudi Gazette, Al Madinah, Okaz and Al Bilad. The first three are Mecca's (and other Saudi cities') primary newspapers focusing mainly on issues that affect the city, with over a million readers.
Many television stations serving the city area include Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, Arab Radio and Television Network and hundreds of cable, satellite and other speciality television providers.
In pre-modern Mecca the most common sports were impromptu wrestling and foot races. Football is the most popular sport in Mecca, the city hosting some of the oldest sport clubs in Saudi Arabia such as, Al-Wahda FC (established in 1945). King Abdulaziz Stadium is the largest stadium in Mecca with capacity of 38,000.
As in other Saudi cities Kabsa (a spiced dish of rice and meat) is the most traditional lunch but the Yemeni mandi (a dish of rice and tandoori cooked meat) is also popular. Grilled meat dishes such as shawarma (flat-bread meat sandwich), kofta (meatballs) and kebab are widely sold in Mecca. During Ramadan, fava beans in olive oil and samosas are the most popular dishes and are eaten at dusk. These dishes are almost always found in Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish restaurants.
The mixture of different ethnicities and nationalities amongst Meccan residents has significantly impacted Mecca's traditional cuisine. The city has been described as one of the most cosmopolitan Islamic cities, with an international cuisine.
Traditionally during the month of Ramadan, men (known as Saggas) provided mineral water and fruit juice for Muslims breaking their fast at dusk. Today, Saggas make money providing sweets such as baklava and basbosa along with fruit juice drinks.
In the 20th century, many fast-food chains have opened franchises in Mecca, catering to locals and pilgrims alike. Exotic foods, such as fruits from India and Japan, are often brought by the pilgrims.
Population density in Mecca is very high. Most long-term residents of Mecca live in the Old City, and many work in the industry known locally as the Hajj Industry. Iyad Madani, Saudi Arabia's minister for Hajj, was quoted as saying, "We never stop preparing for the Hajj." Year-round, pilgrims stream into the city to perform the rites of Umrah, and during the last weeks of Dhu al-Qi'dah, on average 4 million Muslims arrive in the city to take part in the rites known as Hajj.
Pilgrims are from varying ethnicities and backgrounds, mainly Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Many of these pilgrims have remained and become residents of the city. Adding to the Hajj-related diversity, the oil-boom of the past 50 years has brought hundreds of thousands of working immigrants.
Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca under Saudi law, and using fraudulent documents to do so may result in arrest and prosecution. Nevertheless, many non-Muslims have visited the city. The first such recorded example is that of Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna in 1503. Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of Sikhism, visited Mecca in December 1518. One of the most famous was Richard Francis Burton, who traveled as a Qadiriyyah Sufi from Afghanistan in 1853. The Saudi government supports their position using Sura 9:28 from the Qur'an: O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.
Formal education started to be developed in the late Ottoman period continuing slowly into and Hashimite times. The first major attempt to improve the situation was made by a Jeddah merchant, Muhammad ʿAlī Zaynal Riḍā, who founded the Madrasat al-Falāḥ in Mecca in 1911–12 that cost £400,000.
The school system in Mecca has many public and private schools for both males and females. As of 2005, there were 532 public and private schools for males and another 681 public and private schools for female students. The medium of instruction in both public and private schools is Arabic with emphasis on English as a second language, but some private schools founded by foreign entities such as International schools use the English language for medium of instruction. They also allow the mixing between males and females while other schools do not.
For higher education, the city has only one university, Umm al-Qura University, which was established in 1949 as a college and became a public university in 1979.
In 2010, the Mecca area became an important site for paleontology with respect to primate evolution, with the discovery of a Saadanius fossil. Saadanius is considered to be a primate closely related to the common ancestor of the Old World monkeys and apes. The fossil habitat, near what is now the Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia, was a damp forest area between 28m and 29m years ago.
Paleontologists involved in the research hope to find further fossils in the area.
Telecommunications in the city were emphasized early under the Saudi reign. King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (Ibn Saud) pressed them forward as he saw them as a means of convenience and better governance. While in King Husayn's time there were about 20 telephones in the entire city; in 1936 the number jumped to 450, totalling about half the telephones in the country. During that time telephone lines were extended to Jeddah and Ta’if, but not to the capital Riyadh. By 1985, Mecca, like other Saudi cities, possessed the most modern telephone, telex, radio and TV communications.
Limited radio communication was established within the Kingdom under the Hashimites. In 1929, wireless stations were set up in various towns of the region, creating a network that would become fully functional by 1932. Soon after World War II, the existing network was greatly expanded and improved. Since then, radio communication has been used extensively in directing the pilgrimage and addressing the pilgrims. This practice started in 1950, with the initiation of broadcasts the Day of Arafa, and increased until 1957, at which time Radio Makka became the most powerful station in the Middle East at 50 kW. Later, power was increased to 450 kW. Music was not immediately broadcast, but gradually introduced.
Transportation facilities related to the Hajj or Umrah are the main services available. Mecca has only the small Mecca East Airport with no airline service, so most pilgrims access the city through the Hajj terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport or the Jeddah Seaport, both of which are in Jeddah.
A high speed inter-city rail line ( Haramain High Speed Rail Project also known as the "Western Railway"), is under construction in Saudi Arabia. It will link along 444 kilometres (276 mi), the Muslim holy cities of Medina and Mecca via King Abdullah Economic City, Rabigh, Jeddah and King Abdulaziz International Airport. It will be built by a business consortium from Spain.
The city lacks any public transportation options for residents and visitors alike, both during and outside of the pilgrimage season. The main transportation options available for travel within and around the city are either personal vehicles or private taxis.
The 18 km (11 mi) Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro opened in November 2010. A total of 5 metro lines are planned to carry pilgrims to the religious sites.
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